Saturday, August 9, 2014

Taking a Breath

After several months of searching, my husband and I have found a new yoga teacher.  Her classes are strenuous and we both come home feeling like we have had a good workout.  She gives clear instructions and does a beautiful job of guiding both newcomers and old-timers in the execution of the postures.

Over the last several weeks I have been appreciating her increasing focus on pranayama – breathing practice. Noticing the breath – - following the breath - - holding the breath - - releasing the breath - - disciplining the breath while moving through the postures….

The breath – the Source of Life – so taken for granted until it is compromised in some way.  As I try to be more faithful about incorporating yoga into my daily routines, focusing on the breath has become a central way of grounding myself, of entering into prayer, of finding my way through the day with just a little more equanimity.  I find myself coaching myself to breathe when I begin to feel stressed.  I am learning to follow the breath to a place of silence and balance and peace.  I am not adept at staying there, but I am learning to find my way.

As I write, there is a three-day truce in effect between Israel and Gaza.  Whether it will still be in place by the time this is posted is uncertain.  But for the moment, there is space to breathe, to allow the Life Force some time to balance and restore itself.

The last several weeks of conflict have been so painful for so many people.  It seems not to matter which side of the conflict is embraced as the “right one” - - the pain and the sadness and the anger and confusion afflict millions around the world.  In response to it, I find my own breathing constricted, shallow, rapid - - not the kind of breath that nurtures fullness of life in my body – not the kind of breath that feeds my cells for the work they have to do.  I have to stop and pay attention and take charge of my breath with intention.  I have to observe it - - govern it - -slow it down - - deepen it - - hold it - - release it - - all in the service of bringing myself into a state of balance again.

What is becoming more clear to me is that when I am occasionally stressed beyond my ability to care for myself in this way, I depend upon the prayer and the breath of my fellow travelers to carry me through until I can re-engage with my own breath and regain balance again.  At other times I do the same for them.  It is a curious thing.  By sharing in a disciplined practice of breathing, we are able to be present to one another in ways that strengthen and sustain and heal.  Staying with the breath has the potential for allowing wisdom to surface - - perhaps even vision for life.

However brief or prolonged the current ceasefire may be, it represents a moment to breathe in the midst of the pain and suffering and chaos of war.  It may allow time to re-balance – and –as with a yoga practice – it may falter and fail and need to be approached again and again until it is a stable way of entering life.  With discipline, the pranayama of this time of mediated breath might be deepened to a point where all parties might recognize the power of stopping to take a breath – and then another  - and then another in the service of life. We who are geographically at a remove from the various centers of conflict in the world can do this for one another until we are all breathing together.  

For today, I offer the intention and the merit of my breath practice in the service of peace in the world. 

Vicky Hanjian

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